Music and Politics is an open access, peer-reviewed, academic journal first published in 2007. More...


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  • Paul Attinello (University of Newcastle)
  • Michael Beckerman (New York University)
  • Andrea F. Bohlman (UNC Chapel Hill)
  • James R. Currie (University at Buffalo)
  • Dick Flacks (University of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Shirli Gilbert (University of Southampton)
  • Nancy Guy (University of California, San Diego)
  • Patricia Hall (University of Michigan)
  • Áine Heneghan (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
  • Noriko Manabe (Temple University)
  • Chérie Rivers Ndaliko (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Pamela Potter (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • Silvio J. dos Santos (University of Florida)
  • John Street (University of East Anglia)

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Volume XIII, Number 1 (Winter 2019)
Current Issue

Women’s March Colloquy
This Is What Democracy Sounds Like: Sound, Music, and Performance at the Women’s March and Beyond

Drawing an estimated half-million to Washington and seven million to sister marches worldwide, the Women’s March of January 21, 2017, inspired new participants and veteran activists into mass protests, making it the largest single-day protest in US history. Responding to the sudden change in political climate after the 2016 US election, crowds erupted into spontaneous chants, and organizers staged performances of songs and poems. This colloquy examines the 2017 march, and the Resistance that followed, as a sonic confluence of various sociopolitical movements outlined in the march’s unity principles, including feminism, Black Lives Matter, and the rights of immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. Drawing on participatory ethnography and field recordings, contributors examine the acoustics of protest at an emergent moment, considering the performance of intersectional feminism—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—through the participatory protest traditions of chanting and singing; the audible apparatus of the state and its role in demarcating the sonic terrain of protest; and the performance of locality among geographies of music, sound, and protest, comparing Washington and New York to Japan, Syria, and Ukraine.

Introduction: At Risk of Repetition

Benjamin Tausig

The introduction to the colloquy offers a synoptic discussion both of the Women’s March and the essays that follow, routing its summary through questions of repetition and emergence, and through questions of pastness and futurity. The inaugural Women’s March occurred in a confusing and stressful historical moment, with many strategic questions in flux. The introduction considers what it meant both to organize a protest event under such circumstances, and what it meant for ethnographers to try to study it in that moment. It considers, moreover, how scholars of sound, music, and protest can proceed methodologically when quite literally no one is sure what is happening, much less what will happen next. The introduction describes some of the racial and tactical fissures of the march, especially through questions of repetition, and prefaces the theoretical discussions of agonistic democracy and dissensus that follow in the other contributions.

Listening for Dissensus

Maria Sonevytsky

This essay offers a “soundbite ethnography” of a few key moments from the Women’s March on Washington. Attending to moments of acoustic rupture, density, and disorientation, Sonevytsky applies Rancière’s concept of dissensus and Mouffe’s notion of agonistic democracy to assess potent moments of sonic micro-occupation as they occurred throughout the day. The essay concludes with a meditation on visceral knowledge and the potential of sonic ethnography in a time of societal upheaval.

On Sirens and Lamp Posts: Sound, Space, and Affective Politics

Shayna Silverstein

This essay considers how embodied tactics (re)distribute auditory power in political spaces in order to better understand the practices, subjects, and spaces implicated in protest. Focusing on how listening subjects move through and constitute protest spaces, it draws on participant ethnography at the 2017 Women’s March to demonstrate that listening subjects are historically contingent in ways that amplify how protests happen under distinct political constraints. It situates the Women’s March in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson and the revolution in Syria to suggest through comparison how political subjects are not universal but constructed in relation to the powers that they protest. The essay argues that the effects of listening, chanting, and marching on the distribution of power at protest events can be evidenced through the concealment or exercise of dissent as listening subjects move through and constitute political spaces.

The Long Weekend: Exclusion, Intrusion, Trolls, and Punks

Benjamin Harbert

This essay describes the indie punk scene in Washington, DC, in the days approaching and immediately after the Women’s March 2017. The scene became a cultural target of the right, as musicians were threatened by online trolls from 4chan and other rightwing message boards, culminating in the “Pizzagate”-inspired attack on the venue, Comet Ping Pong. Musicians staged a series of concerts and performances around the march, helping to dispel the sense of threat through intersectional political congregation as well as maintaining a longer steady protest locally.

Chants of the Resistance: Flow, Memory, and Inclusivity

Noriko Manabe

Participating in the Women’s March in New York in 2017, this author was struck by how quiet the march seemed, relative to Japanese protests. This essay considers the ways in which policing shapes the sound of protests. In Japan, heavy policing renders protests less visible, compelling Japanese protesters to use sound to make their claims known; chanting, recognized as important in building solidarity, is often led and planned. The Women’s March in New York was privileged by light policing; it didn’t need sound to be seen. The leaderless atmosphere of the Women’s Marches led to a high rate of innovation in chanting. Drawing from ethnography and videos of thirty protests, the essay analyzes the chants of the first six months of the Resistance. Using a combination of humor, references to recent events, interaction with popular music, and intertextuality with historical protest culture, these chants and songs engage protesters and issues in memorable fashion. Aiding the construction of these new chants is their tendency to follow the familiar musical forms of sentences or periods, and their frequent use of pre-existing text patterns. The essay ends with a critique of the decline in intersectionality seen in the 2018 Women’s March in New York and a call for agonistic democracy.

Representing a Christian Nation: Sacred and Providential Discourses in Opera in the United States, 1911–1917

Aaron Ziegel

As the genre of American opera was coming of age during the 1910s, composers and librettists began to incorporate the materials of sacred music into the operatic context with surprising frequency. This often took the form of prayer arias, sacred choruses, hymnody, or choral apotheoses, examples of which appear in Frederick Converse’s The Sacrifice (1911), Victor Herbert’s Natoma (1911), Mary Carr Moore’s Narcissa (1912), and Henry Hadley’s Azora (1917). These composers modeled their efforts after familiar European precedents, including Wagner’s Lohengrin, Gounod’s Faust, and Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, among other works. Close examination of the music, however, reveals a distinctively American approach in which sacred materials function to reinforce statements of patriotic nationalism. By situating these long-overlooked American operas alongside contemporaneous commentary on the United States’ sense of its sacred purpose, this article illustrates how the composers and librettists sought to participate in the discourses of providentialism, the “Christian nation” concept, manifest destiny, and “True Americanism” in order to craft a characteristically national style. The inclusion of sacred musical ingredients thus helped redefine the genre for US listeners, as the operas’ characters give voice to their Americanness through the sacred music they sing.

Discrepant Kisses: The Reception and Remediation of North Korean Children’s Performances Circulated on Social Media

Donna Lee Kwon

This article explores the burgeoning realm of videos uploaded on YouTube generated from content produced in North Korea otherwise known as the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). Through state-sanctioned and individual channels, thousands of videos of North Korean music and dance have been uploaded, some resulting in over 57 million hits on YouTube. Taking a cue from this fascination, I employ digital ethnography to investigate the online reception and remediation of North Korean children’s performances alongside their online comments on YouTube. I also draw from fieldwork conducted in North Korea in 2007. Theories that espouse the democratic participatory effects of social media platforms do not apply in North Korea where most of the uploaded material is produced and controlled by the state. Given this, I argue that North Korea’s engagement with social media is marked by a profound disjuncture where the majority of videos portray ideological North Korean subjects in an online context where very few North Korean citizens are able to engage with this material as social media. I analyze how this disjuncture plays out as international users respond to and remediate these videos in various ways or by creating mash-ups that subvert their original ideological content.

Musical Expertise and the “Ordinary” Listener in Federal Copyright Law

Katherine M. Leo

A perennial problem in federal copyright law has been how, and by whom, musical similarity should be evaluated. Since the first copyright infringement lawsuits heard in the mid-nineteenth century, courts have relied consistently on the detailed comparisons produced by expert witnesses. But since the pivotal 1945 decision in Arnstein v. Porter, trial courts have limited the contributions of experts and instead relied on the totalizing perceptions of non-experts to determine the outcome of each case. While the Arnstein judges’ reasoning seemed to offer a standardized legal process for finding infringement across all copyrightable media, the resulting “ordinary listener standard” for copyright infringement cases was rooted more idiomatically in contemporaneous notions of music appreciation and a lack of listening skill among the general public. Continued reliance on this legal “lay-expert divide” for decades has generated unpredictable and inconsistent results across cases. Subsequent courts seeking revisions have encountered a distinctly musicological question: what constitutes musical expertise?

This article applies an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from musicology and law, to begin mapping the historical terrain of musical expertise in federal copyright litigation. It traces the legal development of a “lay-expert divide” through judicial opinions, from its roots in early legal realism and the US music appreciation movement to more recent re-examinations that promise to account better for a diversity of listening skill and acuity. In so doing, it highlights shifting judicial notions of expertise and the impact they have had on the process of evaluating music copyright infringement.